Most Reverend Rembert George Weakland, O.S.B., retired Archbishop of Milwaukee, and a monk of Saint Vincent Archabbey for more than 75 years, died on August 22, 2022, at the age of 95.
He was born in Patton, Pennsylvania, on April 2, 1927, one of the six children of Basil and Mary Kane Weakland. His siblings are Marion Weber of Duncansville, and Leora Forney of Redondo Beach, California. Also surviving are numerous nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by his sisters, Betty and Barbara, and his brother, William.
He graduated from Our Lady of Perpetual Help parochial school in Patton, and his high school, college, and philosophical studies were done in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, at Saint Vincent Preparatory School, Saint Vincent College, and Saint Vincent Seminary, respectively.
He entered religious life as a Benedictine novice at Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, in 1945 and was solemnly professed as a monk in that order on September 29, 1949, at Solesmes Abbey, France. His theological studies for the priesthood were undertaken at the International Benedictine College of Sant’ Anselmo in Rome, Italy, and at Saint Vincent Seminary, Latrobe. Those early studies led him to travel back and forth from Saint Vincent to Rome, a pattern of travel that repeated itself from wherever he was assigned back to Latrobe, until he was brought back “home” to his final resting place.
He was ordained to the priesthood on June 24, 1951, at Subiaco, Italy, by Bishop Lorenzo S. Salvi, O.S.B., Abbot Nullius of Subiaco Abbey. He pursued studies in music in Italy, France, and Germany, as well as at the Juilliard School of Music, New York, and Columbia University. From 1957 to 1963 he taught music at Saint Vincent College, until such time as he was elected coadjutor archabbot of Saint Vincent Archabbey on June 26, 1963.
He received the solemn blessing of an archabbot from Bishop William G. Connare of Greensburg, Pennsylvania, on August 29, 1963. Following this installation, he became the chancellor and chairman of the Board of Directors of Saint Vincent College.
His travels to Rome continued, as on May 8, 1964, he received a papal appointment as consultor to the Commission for Implementing the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council and was appointed a member of that commission in 1968. He was elected abbot primate of the International Benedictine Confederation on September 29, 1967. At that time he also became chancellor of the international Benedictine College of Sant’ Anselmo, Rome, Italy. He was re-elected to a second term as abbot primate in September 1973. He served as a member of the Council of Superiors General from 1968 until 1977.
Archbishop Rembert’s life of service continued to lead him away from Saint Vincent, when he was appointed archbishop of Milwaukee by Pope Paul VI on September 20, 1977. He was ordained to the episcopacy on November 8, 1977, at the Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist in Milwaukee, and on the same occasion was installed as Milwaukee’s ninth archbishop by Archbishop Jean Jadot, Apostolic Delegate to the United States.
While he was archbishop he maintained his interest in Ambrosian chant, and on December 21, 1999, he defended his research and received a Ph.D. in Musicology, “with distinction,” from Columbia University, New York, for his research and dissertation on “The Office Antiphons of the Ambrosian Chant.”
Archbishop Weakland reached the mandatory retirement age of 75 on April 2, 2002 and his retirement was accepted on May 24, 2002.
He took on many issues — hunger, homelessness and discrimination, among them—during his tenure as Archbishop, and was the author or co-author of more than a dozen books. His life was also not without controversy.
The book of Wisdom (3:1), says “the souls of the just are in the hand of God.”
What a consolation that after 95+ years of successes and failures, proud accomplishments and some decisions he later regretted, Archbishop Rembert’s soul is now in God’s hands, the loving, welcoming, warm hands of his creator. In what better or safer place could he possibly be? His hands that performed great music are now in the hands of the GREAT ONE who brought music into being.
Wisdom 3, verse 5 notes “chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed.” Scripture scholars interpret this to mean that life’s difficulties, pains, and sorrows are all over at death. And hardship and suffering pale into insignificance in the blessed happiness and joy of the vision of God in heaven.
And in verse 9, we hear “grace and mercy are with his chosen ones.”
Many years ago, April 10, 1927, to be precise, God chose Rembert, known as George then, to be His beloved child, on whom His favor would always rest. Now that same God offers His grace, offers the gift of His free and unconditional love and mercy, His compassionate understanding of human weakness and sinfulness. That same God who continually demonstrates readiness and even eagerness to forgive, accepts us with our imperfections and limitations.
The Gospel reading chosen for Archbishop Rembert’s funeral Mass was from the presentation in the Temple from the second chapter of Luke, a reading some might equate with Christmas but one which fits this occasion as well. Christmas is when Christ was first seen by humanity, and death is when humanity sees Him again, each individually.
And Simeon in the Temple evokes Rembert in the Milwaukee Cathedral which he laboriously renovated. The patriarch Simeon was enthusiastic about the hope for the Messiah. He awaited the consolation of his God. His heart was completely open and ready to receive divine enlightenment. He finally saw his Savior physically in the infant Jesus presented in the Temple shortly after his birth. At that revelation, Simeon exclaimed that his life was complete, his purpose was fulfilled. Now he could die in peace. He did not fear death. In fact, he accepted it because he saw that the Lord’s promise was fulfilled, that the Lord Jesus would conquer death through his own suffering and death.
Rembert was not in the same situation as Simeon who held Jesus in his arms. But through his faith and hope, Rembert held the Lord in his heart and he had a sure and certain promise of his own salvation won by Christ. Simeon held the infant Jesus in his arms, but only for an instant. Rembert, through his baptism, possessed him for a lifetime.
Rembert saw the saving deed and the light that he and Simeon awaited here on earth.
After many years of priestly service, offering God the Anointed of the Lord, at the altar, as Jesus was offered by Mary and Joseph in the Temple, Rembert has now seen Jesus, risen and victorious over death.
Rembert can pray along with Simeon: “Now, Master, you can dismiss your servant in peace.”
Lord, for his dedication to the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, dismiss your servant in peace.
For his study and preaching of the Word, Lord, dismiss your servant in peace.
For his striving to live his motto, “equal charity to all,” Lord, dismiss your servant in peace.
For his attentiveness to Benedictine men and women around the world, dismiss, Lord, your servant in peace.
For his musical compositions to praise the Lord, dismiss your servant in peace.
In one sense, it is finished for Archabbot/Archbishop Rembert George Weakland, O.S.B. But in the larger perspective, the only one that truly matters, it has only just begun. Because absolutely nothing, not even what seems so final and tragic and permanent as death, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (cf. Romans 8:38-39), risen from the dead and gloriously triumphant forever.
A concelebrated Mass of Christian Burial with Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki presiding was celebrated at the Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist, 812 N. Jackson Street, Milwaukee on August 30, 2022.
A concelebrated Mass of Christian Burial took place at 7 p.m. in the Basilica with Archabbot Martin Bartel as principal celebrant and homilist. A private committal service was held the following day at Saint Vincent Cemetery.
We ask for your charity and customary suffrages. It is consoling to know that every monk of our monastery offers three Masses for the repose of Archbishop Rembert’s soul, and that he will be included among those confreres for whom all professed monks of our Congregation offer Mass monthly.
MAY FLIGHTS OF ANGELS SING THEE TO THY REST
+Martin R. Bartel, O.S.B. Archabbot
Saint Vincent Archabbey Latrobe, Pennsylvania